Capital threats

Nigeria: Parents getting more worried as insecurity forces schools closures in Abuja

By Akin Irede

Posted on July 29, 2022 15:52

Schools in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and its environs are being forced to shut down amid rising insecurity in the wake of a prison break where some of the most violent criminals and terrorists escaped. UNICEF tells The Africa Report that this will likely affect the number of out-of-school children in a country already facing an education crisis.

In Nigeria, about 18.5 million children, mostly girls, do not have access to education, says UNICEF.

“Currently in Nigeria, there are 18.5 million out-of-school children, 60% of whom are girls,” Rahama Farah, the head of the UNICEF office in Kano, said in May. This came in the wake of mass abductions in many schools last year with some 1,500 pupils being kidnapped in 2021.

Some of the notable abductions last year were:

  • 344 schoolchildren of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, and 80 pupils of Islamiyya School, Mahuta, both in Katsina State;
  • 27 boys at GSS College, Kagara, Niger State;
  • and 279 schoolgirls of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State.

Some affected northern states including Katsina, Niger and Zamfara ordered the closure of – mostly boarding – schools in remote areas for several months, forcing many to give up education altogether. By UNICEF’s estimates, 11,000 schools were closed between December 2020 and early 2022 over insecurity, largely in the north.

Bandits take to Abuja

For many years, banditry and terrorism had been restricted to remote areas of the north, where poverty and illiteracy are high. However, emboldened attackers have now begun to find their way to Abuja, the nation’s capital.

A few weeks ago, terrorists who had in March blown up a train and abducted passengers, invaded the Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja – the country’s most secure prison – and released more than 500 criminals, including about 65 convicted terrorists. This forced the United States and the United Kingdom to issue separate advisories to their citizens in Nigeria’s capital to be more careful. The US specifically predicted a spike in violent crimes in the wake of the jailbreak.

“An increase in crime is expected in and around Abuja. It is recommended that US citizens should maintain a high state of personal security awareness for the next two weeks and avoid unnecessary travel on the airport road. Crime is endemic throughout Nigeria and tends to spike after dark,” the advisory stated.

On 24 July, daredevil forces ambushed troops of the Presidential Guards Brigade, an elite brigade of the Nigerian Army responsible for protecting the President. The attack that took place in Bwari, a suburb in Abuja where a law school is located, claimed the lives of about eight army operatives who were responding to a distress call at the law school.

Failure of intelligence?

Reacting to the attack on the army officers, national security adviser Babagana Monguno said: “Troops of the guards’ brigade were ambushed and decimated. Had there been collective effort by way of just snippets of information, we might have averted that incident.”

However, reports suggest that Nigeria’s security agencies are not lacking intelligence. Rather, one of the problems is what they do with it. According to the deputy speaker of the house of representatives, Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS), sent 44 intelligence reports ahead of the attack on the Kuje jail that led to the release of terrorists.

“You cannot imagine what is happening today in Abuja. I’ll confirm to you that I went through the DSS report — 44 reports were given before the attack on Kuje,” Ahmed Idris Wase said on the floor of the house of representatives.

In a chat with The Africa Report, a former director with the DSS, Mike Ejiofor, said Nigeria had never lacked intelligence; execution was always the problem. He further said that when intelligence is passed on to some agencies, terrorists end up getting it.

Leaky ship

Ejiofor argued that the terrorists that ambushed the presidential guard brigade acted on intelligence.

“There has never been dearth of intelligence since we started operations, but I have always maintained that reaction agencies lack the capacity. And when they have the capacity at times, there are compromises within the reaction agencies. And it has been established that sometimes, information is passed to the terrorists,” Ejiofor said.

An ex-army intelligence officer, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the press, told The Africa Report that there were indeed moles within security circles.

He added that available reports showed that the millions of dollars gotten through the payment of ransoms had been used by these terrorists in purchasing sophisticated weapons, including drones and communications interception gadgets.

“These terrorists have sophisticated equipment. Sometimes, they intercept intelligence and then strike. Governor Zulum (of Borno State) is right. These guys have drones too. So, we are dealing with an organised army of terrorists, not some ragtag elements. They have infiltrated Abuja like sleeper cells,” he says.

A leaked memo from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stated that Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province terrorists were amassing weapons for massive attacks on Katsina, Lagos, Kaduna, Zamfara and Abuja.

Schools shutdown

In a desperate bid to protect the lives of students in the wake of the rising insecurity in Abuja, the Nigerian education ministry earlier in the week ordered the immediate closure of one of its colleges, the Federal Government College Kwali, located in Kwali Area Council, a remote area of the capital. The ministry said the closure had become imperative following a security breach in Kwali. Frantic parents immediately stormed the school to pick up their children.

Many other schools in various parts of Abuja have also been forced to alter their academic calendars in order to close ahead of their scheduled dates. In Nasarawa, a state which shares boundaries with the federal capital, governor Abdullahi Sule also ordered the immediate closure of schools.

“The decision became necessary considering the proximity of the state to the Federal Capital Territory, as well as the resolve of the government to ensure that schools in Nasarawa state operate within a safe environment,” the government said.

Out of school

With schools in Abuja and its environs now being forced to shut down, there are fears that the number of out of school children could worsen.

Daria Wadsworth, a UNICEF education specialist in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, tells The Africa Report that the number of out-of-school children will definitely rise in the face of the rising insecurity and closure of schools.

“UNICEF would anticipate a rise in the number of out-of-school children during any period of unscheduled school closure. Additionally, if caregivers are not confident in school safety, or children are scared to come to school, the risk of drop-out will be elevated and the numbers of out-of-school children will increase”, says Wadsworth.

She adds that children will be at greater risk of exploitation, child labour, child marriage and early pregnancy, and will face limitations throughout their lives because they are unable to build their foundational skills and have not had their right to education realised.

“We know that the longer schools are closed, the less likely children are to return to school. And we know that the risks are even higher for children from poorer households, girls, and children with physical disabilities or learning challenges,” Wadsworth tells The Africa Report.

Ejiofor, the former DSS director, also says that the closure of schools inadvertently helps the Islamist rebels of Boko Haram. Their gold is to end Western education in Nigeria.

Buhari’s failure

While Nigeria has continued to witness rising insecurity, President Muhammadu Buhari – who was elected on his promise to tackle insecurity – has not been able to restore normalcy despite his military credentials. Sources close to the President tell The Africa Report that he is not keen on sacking service chiefs because he values loyalty over competence.

“The President was removed in a coup in 1985 and has since then been very paranoid. He prefers to have loyal military men around him,” says one of his aides.

Buhari is now facing threats of an impeachment in the national assembly. However, the fact that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), holds a majority of the seats in the legislative branch of government, makes such a move unlikely. A spokesman for the president, Garba Shehu, dismissed the threat.

But such rising insecurity barely seven months to the crucial presidential election could affect the APC and its presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, at the polls, analysts say.

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